Hints for Feeding Hummingbirds

It’s great to learn something new, especially when it saves you time and effort. Recently I was listening to the podcast Talkin Birds. Mike O’Connor, the owner of Birdwatchers General Store on Cape Cod, contributes weekly in a segment called “Let’s Ask Mike”. A couple weeks ago his topic was on feeding the hummingbirds. I was a little disappointed because I thought that this was pretty common knowledge for anyone who had hummingbird feeders.

As it turns out, I was not as clever as I thought. I have always boiled four cups of water and then stirred in one cup of sugar to make my hummingbird nectar. After it cooled, I filled my feeder with the sugar-water and stored the remainder in the refrigerator. According to Mike O’Connor there is no need to boil the water. Simply place a ratio of 4 to 1 – tap water to sugar -for whatever amount you need into a glass jar, shake until dissolved and place into your clean feeder. This method was corroborated by a Google search and verified by Judy Morr who told me that they never boiled their water. 🤷‍♀️ This saves me time, a used pot, and a jar taking up space in my already crowded refrigerator!

So, while we are on the subject, here is some additional hummingbird feeder protocol.

Never use organic sugar, stevia, aspartame, brown sugar, coconut sugar, demerara sugar, agave, honey, corn syrup, etc. to make the nectar. White granulated sugar is only sucrose which is what is found in flower nectar. The added minerals found in other unrefined sugars are a better choice for humans, but might have an unwanted affect on the hummers. Luckily the store brand white sugar is always available and very inexpensive. No red coloring is needed as most hummingbird feeders includes a red part. If your feeder is not red, simply add on a red ribbon or any other red object.

This is critical, especially with our long, hot, and humid summers. With our temperatures above 90° we should be replacing the nectar daily, but at least every other day. At 90° it takes very little time for the water to ferment and then spoil. High temperatures will cause mold and bacteria to grow quickly in the water and this is toxic to the birds. If you have ever left your sugar water out
too long, you know how time consuming it is to clean the mold out of the corners and holes of the feeder. If you are changing the water every couple days, that type of cleaning won’t be necessary. If there is no mold, you should only need to rinse it well with hot water. Do not use soap. If your feeder does need disinfecting, use a 2 to 1 part water and vinegar mixture.

Also, there is no need for a large jar feeder or the feeders with more than a few ports filled to the brim with sugar water. Hummingbird tongues are very long and can reach far into the feeder. Keeping the level of nectar low might also deter bees and wasps. If you are changing the water frequently you should only need a small amount of nectar. You can make one cup (¼ cup of sugar) or half a cup (2 tablespoons of sugar) of nectar and have more than enough for the next day or two. Because there are so many people put out hummingbird feeders now, you will probably not see more than a couple hummingbirds feeding at the same time. In fact, you will notice that hummingbirds are pretty territorial with regards to their feeding space. The exception might be at the end of the summer when the babies have fledged and they need the additional fuel to power their upcoming migration.

Hummingbirds are very fast, but very small. Make sure that the area around their feeder is free from ants, bees, and wasps. Even though the insects are probably more interested in the nectar itself, the wasps or bees could attack the hummingbird if they felt threatened and the sting would be fatal. Praying Mantises are fun to look at and will not harm humans, but they are deadly predators to a hummingbird. They don’t seem to be prolific on Seabrook Island, but if you see one near your hummingbird feeder it would be wise to relocate it. Additionally, watch for and clear out any spider webs around the feeders. Hummingbirds will actually use pieces of webs in their nests and might even try to pick out caught insects from webs. Unfortunately, getting ensnared in a web when approaching the feeder could be fatal to the bird. The stretchy sticky strands of the web could quickly entangle a struggling bird.

Finally, if it’s possible, keep your hummingbird feeders up year round. Whether our winter visitors are year round residents or migrants passing through, we can’t be sure, but with fewer flowers available, it would be important to have a fuel source for the winter hummingbirds. And, what a treat to see them during the winter months.

A final FYI, the only hummingbird that we expect to see on Seabrook Island, and more specifically east of the Mississippi, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. In most other areas they arrive in April and have departed for Central America by the first of October.

Submitted by: Joleen Ardaiolo

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